IN the Harvard Business Review article entitled “How to Work for a Narcissistic Boss,” (Rebecca Knight, April 1, 2016), the author writes:
“Research shows there are a large number of narcissists who become leaders. If you’re unlucky enough to have one of these people as a manager, it may be no consolation that you’re in good company.
It’s easy to be fooled by a narcissist—at least at first, says Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, the CEO of Hogan Assessment Systems, a professor of business psychology at University College London, and a faculty member at Columbia University. A narcissist comes across as charming, charismatic, and confident, he says. He seems like the kind of person you want to work for—it’s only later that you see the dark side. And the dark side isn’t pretty, says Michael Maccoby, president of The Maccoby Group and author, most recently, of Strategic Intelligence: Conceptual Tools for Leading Change. Narcissists have an exaggerated sense of entitlement and require constant admiration. They are quick to claim credit for others’ achievements and blame colleagues for their own failures. They care only about their own success, and they’re willing to take advantage of others to get what they need. In short, they’re incredibly difficult to work for.”
I reflect on this description because, in the week just passed, we saw the description come to life, in the person of no other than the presidents of two of the most powerful nations on earth—two men who, should they so choose, could destroy humankind hundreds of times over with the push of a finger.
I want to start with what has now become a familiar spectacle—Donald Trump once more managing to draw attention to himself, when really, it should be somewhere else.
In what has now become a matter of “when and not if,” Trump finally let go of his erstwhile secretary of state, former oil executive Rex Tillerson. The man who reportedly called him a moron some months back was effectively a dead man walking, ever since word came out that he dared question the president’s intelligence, let alone call him a moron. At least now, Trump finally applied the coup de grace, and decided to put him out of his misery. For Tillerson, anything less than political euthanasia would have been too damaging for his health.
As for Russian President Vladimir Putin, well, what can you say about the leader who relishes being photographed shirtless, who seems to enjoy flouting internationally accepted standards of good behavior, and always believes he can get away with anything? Words fail me for a description. How else, for example, could you describe someone who would dare assassinate an enemy—notwithstanding the fact that he has taken up residence and citizenship in another independent and sovereign state—in his new adopted homeland, through methods that do not even attempt to hide who the likely perpetrators are? Well, why don’t we try “narcissist”?
The thing is, Trump and Putin are easy to spot and identify because they are the world’s most powerful men and are always in the spotlight. But the truth is, there are so many Trumps and Putins in our business organizations, whose overblown regard of themselves threatens to damage the very companies they work for.
As the eminent management thinker Peter F. Drucker said, “It is the purpose of the organization, and the grounds of management authority, to make human strength productive.” (Peter F. Drucker, ‘Management: Tasks, Responsibilities, Practices,’ 1974) Peter Drucker asserts that management authority, not having legitimacy through popular choice—unlike political authority— has one purpose and one purpose alone, from which it draws its authority. That’s why narcissistic managers are bad for the organization, because they focus only on themselves and not their people. Making human strength productive is the least of their priorities.
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